Can old DC loco's be converted?

Discussion in 'General' started by trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017), Jun 6, 2013.

  1. trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017)

    trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017) Passed away September 22, 2017

    I have absolutely no experience with DCC systems. I have 10 DC locomotives. 9 of them are DC and the other is a Bachman Spectrum 4-8-2, DCC ready but not equipped. I have an option to buy 4 decoders. Is it possible to install the decoders in the 9 DC locomotives and convert them to DCC? If you need more details about the other 9, let me know.
  2. gstout

    gstout Member Supporter

    The short answer is yes.

    Decoders are relatively simple to install, once you get the hang of it. Basically what you are doing is inserting the decoder into the circuit between the motor brushes and the pickup from the rails (2 connections in, 2 connections out). There are two other connections that go to the light(s). If you want sound it gets a bit more complicated--and expensive--because you need a more sophisticated decoder and a place to install a speaker. Then there is some simple programming to give each locomotive a unique identity that the system will recognize.

    I converted about 30 older DC units last year. NONE were "DCC-ready" and I still got them done relatively easily. The most challenging were P2K E8/9s because they had to be hard-wired. With other power, most notably Stewart, Athearn Genesis and "yellow box" Atlas, the decoders snapped in and the wiring was much simpler. With the P2K E7s it was literally "plug and play," although the headlights did need some re-work. Remember that you will need to buy a new power supply as the voltage through the rails is constant (about 15V) and the throttle will be talking to the decoder rather than controlling voltage from the power supply, so your current DC power pack will not work. I selected NCE, mostly because several of my friends use it and they have good customer support, but Digitrax, Easy DCC, etc., are all good systems. If you call NCE and tell them what locomotives you have, they will tell you what decoders you need.

    Good luck and keep us posted. We are all happy to help.

  3. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    Yes, hard wiring (diesels any way) is very easy. I have a couple different videos about hard wiring on my youtube channel that could help you out. Check out this playlist of me installing a decoder into an Athearn Bluebox Sw1500. It's a little different from a GP or SD unit (I also have one on installing a decoder into an Athearn SD45) but it goes over the basics of installing the decoder and lights and programing.
    I use NCE and it is a great system. comparing to the rest of the market it's probably the best starter system being it comes with a walk around cab as opposed to the digitrax zephyr (which is a good system.) And personally I am a fan of NCE and TCS decoders. Both work very well. Most installs you'll want the TCS T1, or the NCE D13SJR unless you need more lighting functions. For your bachman 4-8-2 an NCE D14SR works great (I have the same engine) since it is an 8 pin decoder instead of a 9.

  4. trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017)

    trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017) Passed away September 22, 2017

    Well since I've just learned I can convert DC locos to DCC, I want to know more about what it would take. But first... I have a few more locos than I thought... 13 total with another on the way... and thinking of buying more?... as if I need more with just 2 tracks. Anyway, I wanted to post pictures and descriptions of the locomotives I have right now. I would like some advice on what kind of knuckle couplers I need for some and what it might take to convert any of these to DCC... as economically as possible. Also, feel free to correct me on any of the descriptions. I'm certainly no expert on locomotives. Here they are in the order I aquired them.

    Bachmann U30B - My first loco (at age 3) - with my 1st set - Many "miles" / Pretty banged up original shell - original motor quit so everything but the shell has been replaced. As banged up as it is, I'm not sure if I would ever convert this one to DCC. I would like keep the rear hook horn coupler to run with the rest of the original set... only because it's my first set and it has a lot of sentimenal value. I might consider a knuckle coupler on the front for coupling to other locos. I have a few "trasition" cars with knuckle on one end and hook horn on the other. If (big IF right now) I convert my layout to DCC, I could always run this on a 36" radius EZ track circle I have stashed away if I don't convert it.

    SANY0705.JPG SANY0735.JPG
    Life Like EMD F9A - Very common - sold as part of a set with 2 trains in the 1990 Sears Christmas Catalog. Goes well with the 4-car BN passenger train I bought on ebay for "short museum excursions." I would consider converting this to DCC and installing knuckle couplers. I just bought some knuckle couplers for the Rivarossi passenger cars.

    Life-Like 0-4-0. My first steam locomotive. It was lettered as UP 3179 until I thought about attempting to change the road name years ago... before I found out Frisco didn't have any 0-4-0's except for the BBRR... at least I think I'm right about that. This model doesn't look like those BBRR 0-4-0's but I may go there anyway. In any case, I didn't know what I was doing when I painted over the lettering. This also came with the set from the 1990 Sears Christmas Catalog. The teeth of the plastic gear on the axle wore down until it wouldn't move. I found another one of these on ebay a few months back that someone tried to paint yellow. It looked like a 2-year old tried to paint it so I got it for nearly nothing. Luckily only the shell was painted. I replaced that shell with my shell. My original frame didn't include a pilot. I believe someone added this one but I like it better this way. Has a stupid fake coupler on the front. These little Life-Like 0-4-0's may not be heavyweights but they certainly are speed demons. They can carry a decent train for their size. After going years without it working, I just bought another one on ebay, mainly for a spare, for a grand total of $8.59. I might consider converting to DCC and would definitely like a knuckle coupler on the tender.

    This will make some of you sick but this Life Like GP 38-2 is one of my favorites. This was the first loco I bought with my own money...$13.00 at "The Side Track" in Amory, MS back in '91 or '92. These "green monsters" are what I watched as they worked the pulpwood yards in my area when I was a kid in the 80's. On my layout, I like to think of it as an ex-SLSF. I would consider converting this one to DCC and knuckle couplers.

    Athearn Blue Box #4631 GP50. This was given to me by a friend when he and I belonged to a MRR club in Amory, MS. It's a little dusty from "working the lumber mill spur." I need to assemble the rest of the handrails. No clue why I've never done that. Under consideration for DCC and knuckle couplers.

    Bachmann - Some type of EMD F unit? I just bought it because I didn't have room for a layout at the time and it came with a Bachmann set that included that 36" radius circle of EZ track that I mentioned before. I could care less about this locomotive. I've been thinking of trying to sell it. It doesn't have much run time on it at all (because I don't care for it). I wouldn't waste a decoder in this one although it is a very good DC loco. I just realized one of the horns broke off and I don't have a clue where it could be... probably in a dust pan long ago. :( If I can't sell it, I could give it's knuckle couplers to the Life Like F9A very easily. If anyone is interested, I would let this one go at a very good price.

    This little Bachmann "Thomas the Tank Engine" technically belongs to my girls. Can't mess with it. OFF LIMITS! Don't let his little 0-6-0 classification fool anyone. He has some muscle. I have a hook horn car or 2 that will snag his international hook and loop coupler well enough to allow him to pull some serious freight. The girls like to make him haul heavy gondola trains. We usually cause him to literally spin his wheels due to trains that are too heavy.

    Bachmann 0-6-0. Impulse buying at it's worst. The box said it smokes. I'd never had one that would smoke so the rest is history. Knuckle couplers (if the stupid fake one on the front counts. It is possible to double head with a faster loco infront of it if I make the fake coupler hook up with a real one.) Might consider for DCC conversion.

    Spectrum 4-8-2 unlettered. Planned for SLSF 1529 "full restoration." Worked. Placed in original box just like the photo for about a year. Taken out. Wouldn't hit a lick. Nothing. Plans to send to Bachmann for repair soon. "DCC ready." Considered for "DCC equipped." ...if it can be fixed.

    SANY0699.JPG SANY0696.JPG SANY0693.JPG
    Bought these next 3 at the same time from the widow of a pastor/model railroader via Larry Parrish. My first Frisco power. All have knuckle couplers and are considered for DCC conversion.
    #956 SD-40-2 by Athearn, #105 GP-15 by Walthers, & #774 GP-40 by Athearn

    An 0-4-0. Manufacturer unknown? Won it dirt cheap on ebay. Advertised as "runs" although it wouldn't when I received it. I could hear the motor hum. I pushed and pulled it back and forth with a little downward pressure to make the wheels turn. If began to show more signs of life. I kept at it until it began to run on it's own. The longer it ran, the better it ran. Soon it ran like nobody's business. I guess it was just locked up. Pretty heavy for an 0-4-0. Decent ammount of TE for it's size. Possible consideration for DCC. Would like a knuckle coupler on the tender. Has one of those stupid fake knuckle couplers on the front.

    Any info would be appreciated. - Brandon
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 7, 2013
  5. trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017)

    trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017) Passed away September 22, 2017

    OK. I've watch the first 4 videos in Ethans series on how to hard wire a BB kit and they are very good. It was enough to tell me that I could probably hard wire some of my locos but that I don't want to tackle that least not right now so I think that I'll stick with DC for now. However I would like to get rid of my remaining hook horn couplers on just about everything I own. Right now I have a few transition cars. However, there are times when I get aggravated because this won't couple up with that. You get the picture. I just need to bite the bullet and get some knuckle couplers. If some of you would tell me which knuckle couplers to buy for the locos I mentioned in my previous post on this thread, that would help me get started, then I could worry about my rolling stock a little later.
  6. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    Ok, the list was helpful. You need to repost the pictures. For some reason it's telling me it's not a valid link, and pictures would be a big help in this. I found a few on your profile though. Here's what I recommend:

    The bachman engines it's going to depend on how new they are. If they have 8 wheel drive and a can motor it wont be too hard to wire up. But if they're old enough they have the motor mounted to one truck then that might be a problem trying to separate the electrical contacts. The newer ones that are made with a light board have a specific decoder made by NCE for them for easier instillation.
    And same thing with your life like diesels. It's going to depend on how the motor is set up.
    The athearn stuff is really easy (I can do one in 5-10 minutes with out having to think twice about something)
    The 0-6-0 by bachman will depend if it's DCC ready. Converting a steam loco is a lot harder than a diesel.
    I have the same life like 0-4-0 from my first train set, and it's missing a piece cause I took it a part to look at the insides of it (also have a IHC 4-6-2 that's the same way....) I'm not sure about that one. You might be able to fit a small decoder in the tender. And the unknown manu. 0-4-0 will probably be the same way. The problem is running the wires to the engine, and then getting everything back to gether right.

    Do you think you can post pictures of the bachman and life like engines with no shell? That will help ID what can be done to them.

  7. trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017)

    trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017) Passed away September 22, 2017

    Ethan, I edited the post with all the photos. Hopefully you can see them now. Give me some time and I'll remove shells. I'll try to get the shell the photos with the motors to help you identify the motors. Let me know which part(s) your UP 0-4-0 needs and I'll see if I can help you out.
  8. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    Brandon. It looks like your 0-4-0 (the green one) is by mantua (that's what it looks like to me). It's not DCC ready. The 0-6-0 by bachman doesn't look DCC ready either. But the 4-8-2 should be a simple plug and play 8 pin harness.
    I'm about 80% sure that the Life like GP38 is a truck mounted motor. And I'm about as sure on the F7. And also on the bachman B30-7
    The bachman FT should have a light board in it.
    All need to see pics of the inside of the GP38, the 2 F units and the B30-7 to be able to tell you what can be done.
    Then the Santa Fe GP50, and Frisco SD40-2 and GP40-2 are all blue box kits (technically the GP40-2 is a RTR line, but it still has the bb kit inerds, ie no light board) and the Walthers GP15 can all be hard wired really easily. So right there is 4 silent decoders. As I said before I recommend the TCS T1 or the NCE D13SRJ.


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